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‘Light will always be stronger than darkness’

Lotte Concert Hall’s Classic Revolution 2020 Seoul Beethoven to wrap up Sunday with ‘Tantot Libre, Tantot Recherche’

Artistic Director Christoph Poppen (Lotte Foundation for Arts)
Artistic Director Christoph Poppen (Lotte Foundation for Arts)

Though Classic Revolution 2020 Seoul Beethoven began with high hopes, the summer music festival was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social distancing rules in Seoul tightened on Aug. 16, a day before the festival opened. Six orchestras, under regional governments, had to cancel performances, including the opening concert. A total of 10 performances, mainly chamber music, stayed on the festival schedule.

The cancellations were devastating for many who had been awaiting the festival, including Christoph Poppen, its artistic director. The German conductor had undergone the required two-week self-quarantine in Seoul for the event.

“There had been moments when we had to consider whether to cancel the whole festival,” Poppen, the principal conductor of the Cologne Chamber Orchestra, said Aug. 20 during a press conference at the Lotte Concert Hall in eastern Seoul.

“But I made the decision to come to Korea because I believed that this (festival) is so important, since we do not have enough music to listen to these days. Music is much more than entertainment. It has very important messages to give,” Poppen said.

The 64-year-old conductor elaborated on the message of Ludwig van Beethoven, the festival’s focal point, as the world celebrates the 250th anniversary of the musician’s birth. Poppen explained how Beethoven used C minor to portray darkness in his music and E flat to suggest light.

According to Poppen, Beethoven’s music compositions often evolved from C minor to E flat, indirectly depicting the musician’s philosophy.

“I think this is the main message which we can learn from Beethoven. In the end, light will always be stronger than darkness,” he said. “It is a wonderful symbol of how music can overcome all sadness and desperation.”

Next year the festival will be separated into two parts, with one part focusing on Piazzolla in honor of the 100th anniversary of the musician’s birth, and the other part focusing on Brahms. Poppen will be in charge.

“Next year will be a compound 10-day festival. It is a wonderful challenge,” he said. “We have to consider everything. We have more time to get prepared. We hope things will be better.”

Cello concerto to connect Beethoven with 2020
Composer Cho Eun-hwa (Lotte Foundation for Arts)
Composer Cho Eun-hwa (Lotte Foundation for Arts)

A commissioned cello concerto by composer Cho Eun-hwa, “Tantot Libre, Tantot Recherche” which could be translated to “sometimes free, sometimes searching,“ will close the Classic Revolution 2020 Seoul Beethoven on Sunday.

The work is a rearrangement of Cho’s chamber music composition of the same title. It is the sixth and the latest part of her series “Jouissance de la Difference.”

“‘Tantot Libre, Tantot Recherche’ had its premiere in 2018 in Germany. Christoph Poppen took the baton at the time, too. It is a great honor to have him conduct the work again,” Cho, 47, said at a press event Monday at Lotte Concert Hall.

Cho, a professor of composition at the Hanns Eisler School of Music in Berlin, composed the piece, inspired by the Beethoven Cello Sonata No. 5 in D major, Op. 102/2.

“Listening to the cello sonata one day, I was imagining what the scores would look like. It was surprising to learn that the scores did not look anything like what I had imagined,” said the Berlin-based composer. Like Poppen, she went through a two-week self-quarantine in Seoul for the event.

The rearrangement was made in the early days of the pandemic. Staying at home, Cho watched recorded clips of classical music performances on YouTube for hours.

“It was interesting to see how easily we can access music at home through the streaming platform. I was worried that people may forget the joy of live performances. Then, I had the idea to bring my experiences at concert halls to the work, focusing on how sound flows in an auditorium,” she said.

Regarding the composition, Poppen said the work “brings the music of our times,” to the Beethoven focused festival.

The work was to be performed by the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra. However, when the SPO had to cancel its performance, the Seoul Tutti Chamber Orchestra added the composition to its program.

“Due to the change of plans, the orchestration had to be changed. I am a little worried whether the music can be expressed in the way that I had in mind. I hope that one day, a large orchestra can perform this composition and show the beauty of the flow of sound in a hall, from the stage to the audience seats,” Cho said.

By Im Eun-byel (

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